Brianna’s Story (Updated)

Some Background

Our amazing, growing, wild-about-God child, Brianna.

A few weeks ago, many of you saw our oldest daughter’s photo on Facebook – she had run away from home one morning and we were in a desperate search on her behalf. It was the longest 7 hours of our life – deputies, detectives, K-9s, etc. Yet, it was filled with prayer, community, and comfort as only God could deliver it.

She had a lot of explaining to do when she returned and the core issues that drove her to running would not be fully exposed that day or even in the days to come. Brianna, like most of us, was struggling with her identity and sense of self worth.

Do You Remember the Time?
Many of you reading this can recall a time in your teenage or even college years when life just seemed confusing, disappointing, and unbearable. Without a clear sense of who we are (in Christ), we are dangerously vulnerable to being “tossed back and forth by the wind” of circumstance. Anxiety, disappointment, and sadness can coalesce into hopelessness.

That’s precisely where Brie had found herself. By the grace of God, she has overcome many obstacles and is currently staying at a residential “behavioral health facility” that helps kids regain their balance in the midst of a chaotic time. It’s not faith based, so we have to bring our own notes to the table when we visit her each week. As parents, we are deeply prayerful on her behalf as well as thoroughly engaged in the “stabilization process”.

I recently reminded Brie how Mommy & I live a very public life and asked her how public she wanted us to be about her journey. She smirked and said “you can tell them everything, as long as it helps”. Wow. Big, brave girl! Below, you’ll find a few action items for yourself and links to articles that may help you if you are/have experienced what she’s gone through or are ministering to someone who’s been through anxiety, depression, cutting, etc.

In truth, it seems much wiser to wait until Brie is on steadier footing before we go any deeper. It’s her story to tell. But, for the sake of all who are asking, we will let a few generalities out – see below. Thank you, all for honoring her in your prayers and for allowing her the space to tell her story at the appropriate time. In short, she does want other teenage girls to know that depression is real, running away has immediate consequences, and self harm can have long term consequences. The way out is “through”.

To Parents of Teens:
In the past two months, this series of events has brought me to the table with no less than a dozen parents who are either going through similar circumstances (two of them the same week as Brianna) and we’ve learned a thing or seven. I’m assuming before this list you consider the fact that helping your teen gain grounding in who they are in Christ is paramount in your plan. Otherwise, they’re relegated to what the rest of the world does – finding their identity in clothes, cliques, and popular culture – a much smaller package than God designed for them to walk in.

  1. Be nosy – if your kid’s grades drop suddenly, it’s not because they just don’t like their biology and math teachers. Despite all we asked, Brie assured us (after the fact) that she felt the need to make everyone think she was okay even when she wasn’t. Most kids don’t want the label “drama queen/drama king”, so they will learn to put on a front both in public and private if it means “avoiding a scene”. Know their unlock code for their phone – if a child runs away without their phone, you’ll likely need to enlist the help of every friend in their contact list to find and bring them home safely.
  2. Surround your teen with godly adults who can influence where you can’t. – This has been the hardest thing for us to do. Jesus told the disciples “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” – those closest to you often reject your advice and counsel because of the law of familiarity. When you do discipleship as a full-time job, you’ll often find yourself scratching your head wondering why your kid doesn’t get it. Yet, I’ve spoken with three ministry leaders this month alone whose kids have ignored sound advice because it was given by their parents. Godly outsiders can be a great asset to your teen. Find some.
  3. There’s a difference between solitude and isolation – if your teen is self isolating, there’s more at play and much more at stake. See #1 at this point.
  4. Read up on self harm and cutting – Nancy Alcorn reports that 10 years ago 6% of her ministry was to women who identify as self-harmers. Today, it’s over 67%. It’s rampant and requires intervention.
  5. Get into their shoes, or at least their brain – If you’re a real stickler for details, Google “prefrontal cortex and adolescence” to get a better understanding of what your teen is going through.

Last, don’t minimize their pain, doubt, fear, or struggles. Their world is very real to them, though perceived only in part and obscured by raging hormones and the loss of some of their brain cells (see PBS’s Frontline article). The prefrontal cortex of the brain handles

“planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making and moderating social behavior (Wikipedia)”.

It’s the part of the brain that prevents us from making irrational, teenage decisions… yet, it’s not fully developed until we reach 25 years old! Throughout her recent exposure to the behavioral health system, we’ve constantly reassured our daughter that she’s not crazy – she’s merely reacting normally to a crazy situation, with a developing brain. By God’s grace, she’ll be convinced of that.

What Can You Do?
As far as us? We’re good. We don’t need sympathy right now. No, really – since this began, God has honored our prayers and shown us that while this is not His perfect will, He is sovereign over us and will use this time of testing to shape and galvanize Brie’s character, testimony, and ministry (not to mention ours).
Put your sympathy card away and get your kneepads on – to pray for Brianna as she “digs in” to do the hard work of introspection, emotional excavation, and claiming her identity in Christ for the first time. We are so proud of her and incredibly blessed to see her faith thriving in the midst of all that has gone on. Clearly, the Lord is ushering her through the valley. She will emerge victoriously and with greater assurance of both His love for her and her identity as His child.

For Brie?
Pray for her to continue to engage with her counselor, her Lord, and her work. God is molding her character in the best ways possible right now and we (and she) are thrilled with her growth. Long term, she wants to enroll in a deeper, faith based program that will help her grow in a deeper understanding of her identity in Christ.

As far as you? Take care of your kid. Or, someone else’s if you don’t have any. Invest all you can into their first decade and be fully present, safe, and available for them during that time. Teach them the value of prayer and leave the rest up to God. Volunteer for your church’s children’s ministries or even for middle school or high school. But, most of all – pray. Love God, thank Jesus for grace, and dig in to the Word.

Huge thanks to the many who have rallied around us, especially the many sitters required to care for the three youngest while we’ve made countless trips to hospitals and “Doctor Camps” for visits and group sessions with Brie. Also, great thanks to Dr. Bob Montes, who has helped us stay grounded in a fully biblical approach to this situation. Thank you, for all of your cards, prayers, and fellowship. Continue to pray that Brie grows more sensitive to the voice of God within her and that He continues to reveal His great nature to her as healer, comforter, redeemer, and lover of her soul.

In Christ,


Update: 5.24.2013
Yesterday’s family session was incredibly tense, but I walk away from it “oddly optimistic”. Brianna displayed oppositional behavior and let a lot of anger out over the course of several rants throughout the conversation. However, this may well be an important step forward since it was the first session she was off any and all prescription meds. As a friend of mine put it – it was “just Brie” with no crutches, forced to walk through the discussion on her own for the first time. To use this analogy, she “fell down” a few times in the discussion, but at least kept walking to a point. It was not an easy conversation for either Cristine nor I, but I am encouraged to know that this was a maiden voyage, with many more to come.

Thank you, all for your prayers for her:
God is up to something.


Backed Up and Restored – Cristine’s Story

Another Mouthpiece

     From the time of Moses, Aaron was always known as “the mouthpiece” for the prophet. As Executive Director and “Chief Tellum Boutitall” of Seasons of Life, It’s no surprise that I’ve been the mouthpiece of our organization and for our “prophet”. This year, considering all we’ve been through, I’ve felt the prompting of God to have Cristine share some of her story and give you an update on how she’s doing and what God has done for her, for us, and for those who call Seasons of Life their “running partner”. “Take it away, Cristine!” -AP

     I was sooo exhausted in July. It’s so weird to be so tired, but not being able to get a whole night of sleep. I was sleeping only about two hours a night for most of the month. I could tell I was starting to show signs of burnout from the nonstop pace we were living at.

     We had fasted in July – a “Daniel Fast” (no meat, no dairy, no bread, nothing to drink other than water, and no sugar). Fasting always exposes what’s going on in your life at a deeper level. But, my husband and I have four kids, 3 of them were under 3 then and they always got up at 7 o’clock and it was a lot to keep them going throughout the day. Aarron’s family lives in Massachusetts and my Mom lives in Florida, taking care of her parents, so we had almost no support to help with the kids. What our fast exposed was that we were nearing burnout, quickly. So, when the fast, the burnout, and a few really bad relationship explosions collided, the insomnia got worse.

If You’re not Sleeping Well, 

Try This… and THIS!

     A lot of people thought it was just nutrition and gave us all kinds of vitamins and supplements (St. John’s Wort, Valerian Root, L-theanine, B-12, Benadryl, Melatonin) to get me to sleep, but none of it even touched it [the sleeplessness]. I mean, I wasn’t drinking caffeine at all that month, but I was taking all these supplements and eating all this food that’s supposed to help, but I’m still awake at 2:00 in the morning.

     That’s because it wasn’t about insomnia. At all. Insomnia was just a symptom of what I really had, which is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – a severe form of constant “fight or flight”. Even with support groups and counseling, most people take years to recover from PTSD. So, we had to go see someone that knew the Lord, His word, and what they were talking about with PTSD. So, I started seeing Dr. Bob Montes and he had already treated people for PTSD with this thing called EMDR. It would have taken a few years to heal from what I had been through without it, but with prayer (a lot of yours, adds my husband) the power of God, and the EMDR, instead it only took a few months.

The Storm before the Calm:
     Before the recovery, I was reading a lot of books and praying like, all the time. “God, you’ve got to deliver me from this.” And I got really nasty. I was raging all the time over stuff that wasn’t really all that bad, but I just felt like nobody understood what I was going though, so I would explode screaming and throwing things.

     One Sunday in August, we were packing up for church and Aarron had put all the kids in the van and I was getting in, when Presleigh (our almost 3 year old) spilled her breakfast shake all over her and Aarron started cleaning it up. Then, I just lost it. I got out of the van and went back in the house and just grabbed the closest thing I could and threw it against the wall. It was these champagne glasses from our wedding and they just went flying into the wall and shattered. So, I reached for something else and threw that and finally Aarron came over and just hugged me really hard and kept telling me he loved me and I was like “Why?!”

Carry Each Others’ Burdens?
    I kept feeling guilty because my husband had to do all kinds of things that I just didn’t have the energy to do, activities of daily living – like 5 loads of laundry and cleaning the house and taking care of the kids and all of his own work and running the ministry. Then he kind of broke down one day and realized not only was I depressed and exhausted, but he was suffering from burnout.

     Some of the books we were reading talked about how to minister to people going through the deep wounding I was dealing with, but we both kind of got nervous when Aarron started to show signs of burnout. There was a lot of load to carry and he was carrying it, but if he couldn’t carry it suddenly, it would be a disaster. All the books we were reading talked about “the dark night of the soul”. They described it as something that when God says it’s time for you to go through it, you’d better go through it. But, we were like “how can we both go through it at the same time with four kids?”

Backup First, Then Restore
Would you save these wilting flowers?

     Aarron was telling me this morning that sometimes we have to defragment our computers or even “wipe” them clean, but first you have to back up the important files. Sometimes the computer gets a bunch of junk on it that slows it down. We had a lot of junk from our past slowing us down and just needed to have it wiped clean. But, isn’t that great that our Heavenly Father, who is making us look more like Jesus is already doing that?

     As things were getting really hard for me emotionally & physically, I had a moment where I took this vase of flowers my husband had given me and brought it outside. Some of the flowers had been wilting, so I chucked them on the far side of our lawn. Then, the Lord spoke to me so clearly – “Not all of those are done for… wilted to the point of no return.” As I picked several of them up, I discovered there were still gorgeous petals underneath some of the bad ones. I heard the Lord say “this was you and all the others like you.” The world would have tossed them.

The Wind Up of it Is… [Lessons Learned]

    In our lives, God already has a backup of the important files. As we walk through life, past hurts, fears, and brokenness leaves junk on our life. But, God knows the value we each have to Him. The world might throw us aside when our beauty doesn’t match up, but God hadn’t forgotten about them, me, or you.

     Today, I feel restored – almost 40 people who are very dear to me are about to show up for a late birthday party for me. Aarron was shocked that I would have a big party because he’s done surprises for me before and I didn’t like them because I usually hate being the center of attention. This time, it’s different – I want to celebrate this new season of my life with the people who mean the most to me and tell of the great things He has done. My recovery has been nothing shy of a miracle from God.

     We are stronger and better today because God has backed us up, wiped us clean, and restored us. But, like Job, I think He has made us better off than we were before. In order to face my dark night of the soul, I had to cancel a small group study I was going to lead. When I told the girls I’d have to bow out and why, they were more than supportive of me. But, three of those same girls emailed me back and said that they had been going through past hurts, too, but they hadn’t been willing to talk about them or seek help until they heard my story… God’s story. Today, I am grateful to my Abba-Father, Jehovah-Rapha “The LORD is my healer”, that He has healed me, but also restored me to be able to lock arms with other women who have yet to walk through their own dark night of the soul. (Now, if I can find time to meet with all of them, it will really be an act of God!!!)

Praise and honor to Him,

Cristine Pina